9 Tips for Effective Email Communication

A good servant, but a bad master

May 10, 2018

Believe it or not, experts in psychology, management, linguistics and more, have been turning their attention lately to the complexities of email management and the challenges of writing emails with maximum impact. It’s a huge subject.

The first thing to recognize is that email is a lean medium. It is not like face-to-face communication where we can use nonverbal cues to help convey what we mean. Ditto the phone, where tone of voice aids persuasiveness. None of this exists with email.

Recently, I came across an instructive article published in The Wall Street Journal, written by Andrew Blackman.1 Mr. Blackman opens his piece with the following observation:

‘Email has become so ingrained in our workday life that we rarely give it a second thought. Perhaps we should. Researchers have been putting a laser focus on how we can be smarter about using email at work, and they have come up with surprising insights – from the best way to tame an overflowing inbox to the unintended consequences of punctuation choices.’

  1. A company culture forcing employees to answer emails quickly may be especially difficult for highly conscientious people.2
  2. Email notifications caused them higher stress than other people and made them unproductive in their work, even though they often delayed answering.
  3. Switching off email alerts while checking email every 45 minutes and taking action on messages helps reduce stress and allows people to feel in control.
  4. By using the delay send feature when replying to email during off hours so your inbox is cleared, you aren’t putting pressure on anybody else to respond.
  5. People reply to emails more quickly early in the week.
  6. People reply more quickly between 8 a.m. and noon.
  7. Don’t send an important email on Friday. Wait until Monday. It’s much more likely to be at the top of the recipient’s inbox.
  8. Don’t worry about deploying some ALL CAPS, but use them judiciously. Capital letters can provide emphasis, communicate urgency or inject humour. Adding a capitalized AND or BUT can also act as a cue that the writer is going to add more. So although typing a whole email in capitals is a no-no, there’s nothing wrong with using all caps in smaller doses.
  9. Using emojis – those small digital images or icons used to express an idea or an emotion – can be effective, but must be used selectively and with discretion.

Inbox impact

For additional context, let’s look at some statistics quoted by Mr. Blackman on what experts in the field call Inbox impact3.

11 | Average times per hour users check their email
84% | Share of user who keep their email in the backup at all times
87 | Average number of emails received per day
70% | Share of emails received within 6 seconds of receipt
64 | Average time, in seconds, that users took to resume tasks interrupted by email

This data was compiled by Gloria Mark et al., ‘Email Duration, Batching and Self-interruption,’ Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing.

Conclusion

Since email management is, clearly, a critical part of professional productivity we need to make enlightened choices about the way we handle it.

Email is a method of communication that, while crucial to success, can be profoundly undermining.

These observations confirm the insights I shared with you recently concerning the pitfalls of multi-tasking, another leading source of inefficient and counter productive professional practices.

Like so much of the multimedia technology we are surrounded by, email is a good servant, but a bad master.

Michael Fahy, The Michael Fahy Group, CIBC Wood Gundy, 604-691-7207.


1 http://www.paywallnews.com/life/The-Smartest-Ways-to-Use-Email-at-Work.S1-cQ0vmKf.html
2 https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1180875.1180941
3 https://chi2016.acm.org/wp/papers-and-notes/